Fresh-Faced Panas Upends Lakeland in Battle of Titans

We are part of The Trust Project
By Ray Gallagher, Examiner Sports Editor @Directrays
Panas freshman Sophia Tavarez splits a trio of Lakeland defenders en route to two of her 15 points to go with an astonishing eight steals

WALTER PANAS basketball Coach Matt Evangelista is having about as much fun this year as he’s ever had during a coaching career that spans 16 years, including 206 career wins against 118 losses between his time as coach of the Briarcliff boys (5 years) and Panas girls (11 years). His youthful Panthers (11-1) are running roughshod through Section 1 despite a multitude of talented freshmen and three strong juniors in the starting lineup.

Without a senior making major on-court contributions, that talent was on full display in Friday’s 66-48 League II-D victory over crosstown rival LAKELAND, which came into the game 11-0.

“I will tell you this: They work so hard in practice, like they have fun, but they really bust it in practice,” Evangelista said. “They push each other to really commit on the defensive side of the ball. Kelsey Cregan and Julia Gallinger really control the boards and they’re all over that. Sophia Tavarez and Cadence Nicholas are in every passing lane and whether it’s Sarah Chiulli or Katie Hoffman, that last position has been really good for us, too. They work hard and tend to outwork the other team. Sophia and Cadence tend to frustrate people. They don’t seem to get tired but they do seem to wear people out. ”

Panas freshman G Cadence Nicholas continued what has been an amazing two-year varsity run by netting 20 points, eight of which came during a torrid 22-12 third-quarter run to provide a 49-36 lead over the veteran-laden Hornets. Many of those points came off assists from freshman point guard Sofia Tavarez, whose eight steals perplexed the Lakeland offense.

Panas freshman G Cadence Nicholas finished with a game-high 20 points in Panthers’ 66-48 win over previously undefeated Lakeland Friday

She added 15 points, including eight in the fourth quarter. Junior F Kelsey Cregan, the glue that holds this unit together, knocked down eight points, snagged 16 rebounds and solved Lakeland’s pressure with savvy and poise. Panas junior G Sarah Chiuli added 11 huge points.

“Going into the game we were all feeling a little nervous, although excited, since it was Lakeland, but coach Matt and coach Thomas prepared us for every game situation,” Nicholas said. “Everyone on the team is close, so we all work really well together. Sofia and I are always excited going into games because we never know what to expect.”

The freshmen are getting guidance from the upperclassmen, who are leading by example.

“Kelsey Cregan, Julia Gallinger, and Sarah Chiulli are role models to us since they have more experience than we do,” Nicholas said. “They all encourage us throughout the game, which keeps us going. We all played hard together and knew we had to get an early lead against Lakeland. We talked at halftime about how we had to start scoring more and playing quicker, which is what we did. Everyone feeds off of each other’s good energy and once one person steps up we all do.”

Lakeland was led by sniper Ava Lugo, who scored 17 to keep the Hornets hanging around while senior Tyler Harmazabel was limited to 11 points, far below her average.

Panas F Kelsey Cregan finished with eight points and 16 rebounds in Panthers’ 66-48 win over host Lakeland Friday.

Around the Section: Don’t look now, but OSSINING (10-1) is the No.1 seed in Class AA after Katie Marx delivered a massive double-double (20 points, 15 rebounds) while Michelle Mercado added 14 points and five assists and Ella Schnecker came through with six points and six rebounds…

BREWSTER senior F Grace Galgano is inching up on a milestone this week as the classy veteran is about to score the 1,000th point of her storied career after recording a triple-double in the Bears’ 54-39 win over Nyack Saturday. Double-G went for 24 points, 11 rebounds and 10 blocks as the Bears improved to 11-3. The kid will eventually go down in rarified air with 1,000 points and the impending 1,000 rebounds #WhatACareer…

If the Class A playoffs started today, No.2 Panas, No.3 Lakeland, No.5 Brewster, No.8 Mahopac and No.9 Peekskill would all be among the top 10. Yeah, our girls are hooping hard in this neck of the woods. Mahopac (8-4), which has won six of the last seven, is a team nobody wants to see in the first round…

Class B PUTNAM VALLEY (7-5) will pay Mahopac a visit this Thursday (6 p.m.) in what figures to be an intriguing game. The Valley has the best player on the floor in Rhode Island-bound junior G Eva DeChent, but the Indians have the more well-rounded team, thus the intrigue. Can they run enough interference at DeChent? Might they box-and-one her?

We'd love for you to support our work by joining as a free, partial access subscriber, or by registering as a full access member. Members get full access to all of our content, and receive a variety of bonus perks like free show tickets. Learn more here.